The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now

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Is this what your thinking looks like?

[Thanks for the Japanese vending machine, Woesinger!]

Words are thoughts.

The better we choose our words, the more we hone our thinking machine, and just like software, it’s a case of GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Thinking hard is pointless if we don’t use the right tools.

Think and speak with precision. Less is often more. Here are 10 common words I have observed to cause stress, depression, and conflict due to their vagueness. All of them are overused to the point of being meaningless. The solution? Stop using them and find more descriptive alternatives. I recommend focusing on removing one or two each week, even if just as an exercise.

In no particular order…

1. Happiness

2. Success

3. Should

4. Responsible

5. Realistic

6. Reasonable

7. Spiritual

8. Good/Right

9. Bad/Wrong

10. Moral

Do you love some of these? Most of us do. But… try and define them without using an equally vague synonym or a tautology.

But why do we love them?

Because they remove the heavy lifting of real thinking. These socially-accepted throwaway terms are crutches for unclear thinking, just like “thing”, “stuff”, or “interesting”–enemies of good writers worldwide. But the above 10 are much more dangerous, as they encourage us to compare, judge, or fool ourselves and others.

Trim the fat and cultivate your thinking with more creative and expressive word choice. As Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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232 Replies to “The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now”

  1. I’m quite surprised with this list at first glance, but it does make sense when I think about it. But you just used “happiness” & “success” in the opening of the new podcast episode Morning Routines and Strategies, isn’t it?

  2. wait… the words “Happiness” and “Success” can cause stress, depression, and conflict due to their vagueness? As opposed to what? “sadness” “misery” – all due respect Tim, I really don’t buy this…

  3. Does anyone else see the irony in the title saying we ‘should’ stop using these words, and the #2 word he suggests removinf is ‘should’? :-p

  4. I agree with you I tried to use these words as little as possible and try to expand my vocabulary so what I say is more expressive rather than basic. Thanks for sharing this article

  5. Particularly in my work as a movement coach I’ve been working toward removing the word “try”. As Yoda said “do or do not, there is no try” 😁 (props to my mentor Joanne Elphinston for the inspiration!)

  6. I agree with dumping the word “happiness.” I am a male that used to watch a lot of WWE wrestling and Days of our Lives in college. “Days” would consistently point out that they just wanted to be “happy.” I just want you to be happy. Your happiness is this and that. Over the years , I think mainly drunk people want to be happy all the time. I would aim more towards Contentment.

    Reasonable is the word I would keep. Reasonableness is a benchmark for ideas such as “what would a reasonable person do?” “Is this a reasonable position?”

    My favorite word is Seems. You can say “it seems like you don’t want to go to my mom’s house for dinner.” Then she says “I never said that. How dare you ….” Then you reply “I said it SEEMS that way. Now I know you don’t feel that way.” You effortlessly backed out of a tough spot because of that one word.

  7. I would add Bored / Boring to the list. I’ve always felt that only boring people get bored.

    I would also add “can’t.” That word should be replaced with phrases such as :
    I do not know how, please help me.
    I am not tall enough, can you hold this chair for me to stand on?
    I am too lazy to process your request.
    I need to do more work to process your request.
    The word “can’t” is a limiting belief word. If anything , you can’t …….yet. That would be the sole acceptable use of the phrase.